Long-haul truckers driving the east-west corridor through Utah find themselves in one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, and sometimes one of the most challenging to navigate. The stunning terrain of mountains, canyons, and rivers experiences wide temperature swings and heavy snowfall that makes resorts such as Park City and Deer Valley favorite ski destinations.

“Interstate 80 is critical to our nation’s infrastructure,” says Matt Zundel, resident engineer for the Utah DOT (UDOT). “About 80% of east-west truck traffic goes through here, so we’re always looking for ways to improve it.”

In 2011 the agency launched its Renovate I-80 campaign to extend the corridor’s life with a series of long-sighted repairs to prevent more extensive reconstruction in the future. The campaign’s website posts traffic restrictions, delays, and project updates intended to minimize inconvenience to motorists.

Although the scope of I-80 improvements is broad, UDOT remains focused on its critical mission: driver safety. This was the leading factor behind a recent project to replace 7.5 miles of the interstate between Silver Creek Junction and Wanship.

The original asphalt road through Silver Creek Canyon was built in the 1960s and had been repaved many times, including several “mill-and-fills” in the past 15 years. Much of the rutting and cracking was caused by the heavy-duty truck traffic, but frequent freeze/thaw cycles at the 6,400-foot elevation also took a toll.

“We are constantly evaluating our pavement and prioritizing repairs,” says Zundel, “and we didn’t think this stretch would make it through another winter.” UDOT sought fast-track funding through the state’s Transportation Investment Fund, a process that typically takes five years. “We got approval to start the project a year earlier than planned, due to potentially extreme failure of the asphalt,” he says.

Next page: Designing for durability